Abu Sayyaf releases South Korean, Filipino hostages after three-month ordeal
The pair were kidnapped from a South Korean cargo ship in October last year
A South Korean captain and a Filipino crewman abducted by suspected Islamist militants off the southern Philippines were released on Saturday, authorities said, ending a three-month ordeal where they endured beatings and hunger.
The Philippine military said armed men identifying themselves as Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped the pair from a South Korean cargo ship in October last year, the first such attack on a large merchant vessel.
Jesus Dureza, a senior aide to President Rodrigo Duterte, fetched the freed hostages in Sulu, a remote archipelago known as a militant hideout, and brought them to Davao, a city about 600km from Sulu.
The two seafarers were beaten by their captors and forced to sleep in the jungle while eating dried fish and drinking unclean water, Dureza said.
“We were almost hopeless but I am thankful we were able to come home safely,” Filipino crewman Glenn Alindajao, 31, said in a news briefing.
South Korean captain Park Chung-hung, 38, did not speak with reporters but like Alindajao, appeared weak and grew a beard while in captivity.
The abduction on board the 11,400-tonne heavy load carrier Dong Bang Giant 2 occurred just off the southern entry of the Sibutu Passage, a 29km wide channel used by merchant shipping in transit between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
The cargo ship was heading for South Korea from Australia.
The freed captives were flown to the capital Manila on Saturday afternoon to undergo debriefing and a medical examination.
“They were physically maltreated without any provocation,” Dureza said.
“They have been very stressed out. They were moved from one place to another, sometimes sleeping in forests, different houses, eating just dried fish and drinking water from brooks.”
Dureza said the Muslim rebel group the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which is in peace talks with the government, helped in facilitating the hostages’ release.
The ship’s owners also negotiated for their freedom, according to Dureza, adding that he was not aware if a ransom was paid to Abu Sayyaf, which does not normally free hostages without huge sums of money.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, and has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded two Canadian hostages last year after demands for millions of dollars were not met, and released a Norwegian man along with a number of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors after ransoms were believed to be paid.
This week the group released a video showing an elderly German sailor abducted at sea late last year was alive.
The Abu Sayyaf began kidnapping sailors in border waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last year, taking several dozen hostages.
The spike in abductions sparked Indonesian warnings that the region could become the “next Somalia” and pushed the three neighbours to pledge coordinated patrols.
Dureza said he would recommend that ships have armed security.
Duterte, who took office last year, vowed to destroy the Abu Sayyaf and deployed thousands of extra troops to defeat them.
But the militants have defied more than a decade of similar US-backed offensives, surviving in their mountainous and jungle-clad strongholds in the poverty-plagued southern Philippines.
“The two hostages even planned to escape but they could not. They discovered that the community around is very supportive,” Dureza said.
“They are able to benefit from [the kidnappings].”